Asylum seekers and refugees guide

Definition of terms 'asylum seeker' and 'refugee'

In most countries a person must apply for asylum before they are recognised as a refugee. An asylum seeker is someone who arrives in a new country and makes an asylum application. It is then up to the Government to decide if their claim meets the definition of a refugee, as below.

The 1951 United Nations Convention on Refugees defines a refugee as someone who has fled their country due to 'a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion'.

Hampshire has relatively few asylum seekers and refugees, although the numbers have risen significantly since 2016. This means that many of them are isolated and very vulnerable. Schools will need to be flexible in their approach and should seek the advice of EMTAS regarding appropriate provision.

Who are unaccompanied asylum seeking children/young people (UASC)?

An unaccompanied asylum seeker (UASC) is a person who, at the time of making their asylum application, is under 18 years of age or who, in the absence of documentary evidence, appears to be under that age and who is applying for asylum in his/her own right and is without adult family member(s) or guardian(s) to turn to in this country. A child is not unaccompanied if he/she is being cared for by an adult prepared to take responsibility for them.

Some of the children and young people seeking asylum attending schools in Hampshire will be unaccompanied. This means that they arrived in the UK without an adult family member or guardian accompanying them. Some of these children/young people will have been placed in Hampshire by another Local Authority. Many of these children and young people will have experienced trauma including the loss of their parents and/or siblings, or will have lived in war conditions. Schools receiving UASC should contact both EMTAS and the Virtual School for advice.


Trafficked children/young people

Trafficking is when a child/young person is moved either within a country or into a new country for the purpose of exploiting them. They may be controlled by harm, including physical and sexual abuse, or threats of harm to themselves or their family. Fear of Voodoo or Juju may also be used. They are made to work to pay back the cost of their travel to the UK – their debt bond. Children and young people who are not trafficked do not have this debt as usually a family member paid for their travel to the UK before they left their country of origin.

Some of the asylum seeking and/or refugee children and young people in Hampshire schools will have been trafficked. Usually they will already have been identified as trafficked before starting their education in Hampshire. In these cases, detailed information will have been given to the school by the child/young person’s social worker on how to keep them safe whilst at school. All UASC will be assumed to have been trafficked until proved otherwise in order to safeguard them.

Occasionally, a child/young person may not already have been identified as trafficked prior to commencing their education in Hampshire. If any school has suspicions that an asylum seeker/refugee may have been trafficked they should immediately report their concerns to the child/young person’s social worker, if they have one. If they do not currently have a social worker, Hampshire’s Child Protection team should be contacted. They will then initiate a multiagency response to keep the child/young person safe including notifying the Willow team, Social Care, the police, the Home Office and Barnardo’s Child Trafficking Advocacy Service. If appropriate a referral will be made to the National Referral Mechanism. The school will be kept fully informed of any strategies that they need to use to keep the child/young person safe.

Inducting an asylum seeking child/young person or refugee into your school

The way that an asylum seeking child/young person is inducted into their new school is key to their future success in education in the UK. It is essential to plan their induction carefully as early as possible. If it is not clear whether a particular child/young person is an asylum seeker/refugee or not it is advisable to proceed with induction as if they may be as much of the following advice is good practice in the induction of any child/young person entering the UK education system from abroad.

As soon as a school knows or suspects that it is to admit an asylum seeking child/young person it should start the process of collecting as much information about the child/young person as possible. In the case of an UASC this process will be part of an Education Planning Meeting (EPM) set up by one of the agencies involved in supporting the UASC such as the Virtual School. A referral to EMTAS should also be made at this stage.

It is also important to try and find out if the child/young person has been to school before in their country of origin. It is quite common for UASCs to have very fragmented education or no formal education prior to coming to the UK. Children/young people who are accompanied may also have experienced disruption to their education due to the situation in their country of origin meaning that regular school attendance may not have been possible.

Decisions then need to be made about which year group to place the child/young person in (in most cases this will be their chronological year group) and which groups or sets to place them in (middle to higher are recommended). For secondary aged asylum seekers/refugees their timetable and subject choices (if applicable) also needs to be considered. Thought also needs to be given to what type of support the child/young person will need. EMTAS can advise schools about this if required.


It is important to recognise that asylum seeking/refugee children and young people will almost certainly be showing signs of trauma, particularly if they are UASC. They may have witnessed horrific events. In the case of UASCs, their parents and other family members may have been killed or the children/young people may not know if they are dead or alive. The journey to the UK will also have been quite traumatic in many cases. All asylum seeking/refugee children and young people are also having to cope with living in a new country where they initially may know no-one, learning a new language and starting school possibly for the first time in their lives. They may be living with people who do not share their cultural background, language or religion.

Schools can play an important part by providing stability and a normal routine for asylum seeking/refugee children and young people. It is important that class teachers, subject teachers and any other relevant staff are aware that these children and young people may be suffering from the effects of trauma, loss, separation and change and that this may affect their behaviour in school as well as at home.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow's hierarchy pyramidMaslow’s hierarchy illustrates the psychological needs that asylum seeking children and young people will have on their arrival at their new school. It is worth noting that cognitive needs are a long way up the pyramid. It is therefore unlikely that a newly arrived child/young person will achieve or be motivated to achieve academically if their needs lower down the pyramid are not met. The quality of the pastoral and welfare support provided by the school is therefore of utmost importance.


There is no single ‘test’ that schools can administer on admission to assess a newly arrived asylum seeking child/young person or refugee. The assessment process needs to be on-going and ideally initiated within the first two weeks of admission. This will enable appropriate provision to be offered and appropriate learning targets put in place. It is good practice to review the progress and placement of the pupil at least termly.

EMTAS will complete an initial assessment following a referral by a school which will include a Profile Report detailing the pupil’s level of proficiency in their home language, an initial assessment of their level of proficiency in English and background information including their past educational experiences. Academies who have not bought into EMTAS will incur a charge for this service.

Actions to take following the completion of the child/young person’s Profile Report

Once complete, the profiling process will have identified the areas where the child/young person will need additional support. The school can now decide how to provide this support and should start to provide it as soon as practicable. EMTAS can provide schools with further advice on appropriate support if required. For UASCs some of this support could be funded through the Pupil Premium Plus grant. Other asylum seekers/refugees may qualify for Pupil Premium if their family is receiving support under Part VI of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. The child/young person’s need for support will change over time so it is important to review the support on offer regularly to check that it is still needed and appropriate.

EMTAS is able to provide a range of types of support for pupils in maintained schools and academies who have bought in to the service. Other academies are able to purchase support if required.

Support available from EMTAS

Hampshire EMTAS can:

  • provide detailed guidance on asylum seeker/refugee issues including admission to schools/colleges, teaching and learning, pastoral advice, resources, useful contacts
  • provide a bilingual assistant to translate or interpret
  • conduct an initial assessment, including writing a Profile Report detailing the pupil's previous education and current achievement levels to enable early and correct placement
  • provide advice on appropriate teaching strategies
  • provide advice on the best course of action regarding GCSE choices/other courses when admitting pupils into Year 10 or Year 11
  • provide in-class support for the child/young person
  • provide training for school staff
  • loan the school resources such as bilingual dictionaries, bilingual storybooks for primary aged children and ICT resources such as Talking Pens.

Entitlement to compulsory education

Children/young people who are asylum seekers or refugees have the right to free education. This includes young people aged 16-19 who are entitled to attend school sixth forms or Further Education(FE) colleges.

School admission

Schools must by law treat any application from a child/young person seeking asylum in the same way as any other application. The fact that the child/young person may speak little or no English does not matter.

Free school meals

If your family has been issued with vouchers from the National Asylum Support Service (NASS) then your child is entitled to free school meals (and milk, where provided).

School uniform

Schools may be able to provide you with some school uniform items for your child.

At the discretion of Hampshire Local Education Authority school uniform grants may be available.

At school

Please ask the school to obtain a bilingual dictionary for use in school.

If you have a problem or are worried about your child's education, please speak to the class teacher or form tutor.

At home

Continue to use your own language at home. Children who speak their first language well will become better speakers and users of English. Talk to your child about their lessons. This will help your child to understand more.

Unaccompanied asylum seeker children FAQs

Information for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking children

This booklet “Welcome to Hampshire” was written for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children and young people.  Their carers may also find it useful as it contains a wealth of information about life in the UK.

The following document was produced jointly with the Virtual School to help clarify how to access support and pupil premium funding for asylum seekers and refugee pupils: EMTAS and Virtual School UASC Support options

Audio files

You can listen to audio sections of the Welcome to Hampshire booklet being read aloud in English, Arabic, Farsi or Pashto.

Good practice guidelines/other useful documents

From 1 November 2017, the government published a strategy setting out their commitments to safeguard and promote the welfare of unaccompanied asylum seeking and refugee children. Statutory guidance around unaccompanied migrant children, who may be victims, or potential victims, of modern slavery was published at the same time, together with DfE responses to the latest consultation around the care of unaccompanied-asylum-seeking-and-refugee-children.

Links to all of these documents can be found below:

To read more about best practice in relation to refugees and asylum seekers, see the Hampshire EMTAS blog.